Arland J. Hultgren, The Rise of Normative Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994). Pp. xiv + 210. Paper $16. ISBN 0-8006-2645-1.

Arland Hultgren re-opens the question of the existence of a "normative" form of Christianity in apostolic times, asserting that it did exist, can be described, and provided the "basic norms for the flowering of orthodoxy later" (1). There has never been only one form of Christianity" (2). Yet, there was a "type of Christianity that developed and became dominant in the first three centuries, and was given further and decisive form by the ecumenical councils . . . ." (3) H. refers to this as "normative Christianity."

Hultgren admits that there were political factors at work in the development of the NT canon and Christian orthodoxy (e.g., the legitimation of ecclesiastical offices and officers), but brackets them from the discussion. Instead, he seeks "discernible factors having to do with belief and conduct that favored the survival and development of certain forms of Christianity along the path of the normative consensus, broadly conceived, and the dissent and eventual isolation, or even demise, of others" (5).

He begins his discussion (in Chpt. 2) by outlining four basic approaches to the question: (a) "the traditional view" (truth preceded error); (b) heresy preceded orthodoxy [Bauer]; (c) flexible and fixed elements [Turner]; and (d) diverse trajectories from the beginning [Robinson/Koester]. Each view is outlined and critiqued; H. finds something lacking in each of the theories b-d (remarkably, not for "a"). The outline and refutation of Bauer's view receives particular attention, while Turner is valued for his critique of Bauer (15), and Robinson and Koester are criticized for being under Bauer's "spell" (17).

Hultgren's critique glosses over Bauer's distinctions, which results in misrepresenting Bauer's thesis and some of his supporting arguments. Bauer suggests that "perhaps ... 'heresies' originally had not been such at all, but, at least here and there, were the only form of the new religion ..." [Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, Second German Edition, edited by R. A. Kraft and G. Krodel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), xxii; his emphasis]. But Bauer's "here and there" becomes H's "far and wide, except for Rome" (10). And the objection H. makes concerning Edessa (10-11) actually supports Bauer's thesis. Rather than answering Bauer's query about whether Eusebius' list of early Antiochene bishops can be complete, H. dismisses him as "just plain wrong" (12). Such a heavy-handed approach in dealing with one of the most significant opponents to his thesis does little to build confidence in H's analysis.

Hultgren gives the trajectory theory a more adequate representation, but attributing "inevitability" to the historical judgements of Robinson and Koester (17) goes beyond their claims. Because of his overriding paradigm of "orthodoxy (normativity) versus heresy," H. rejects the notion that the multiplicity of early Christian views were (at least initially) equally reasonable attempts to construe the experience of the radical revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Instead, H. insists that "What emerged as orthodoxy was but the ecclesiastical validation of a broad stream of convictions and ways of living that had staying power." (22) The analysis of how orthodoxy and community ethos intersect is how H. aims to make this case.

Using Antioch (Q, Mt), Ephesus (Paul, Pastorals) and the Johannine community as case studies, H. argues for consistent conjunctions between their beliefs and practices from the mid-first to second centuries. Here his analysis is careful and even-handed. H. recognizes the significant contrasts among these three Christian communities, yet also highlights their commonalities of belief and ethos. The struggle to maintain the congruence between belief and practice was what, H. claims, finally required limits to the diversity among Christian communities. The six factors H. lists (86) are affirmations of faith and life that cover the gamut from theology to ethics.

While recognizing that there were political and personality issues involved in shaping the mainstream of Christian tradition, H. tries to counter what he sees as a reductionistic trend by emphasizing the primacy of the struggles to determine the nature of orthodoxy and orthopraxis. While some may challenge his judgment about which factors were primary, his thesis is worth close attention and further testing.
 

Sheila Elizabeth McGinn, Ph.D.
John Carroll University
University Heights, Ohio 44118
23 January 1995